Hundreds of D.C. residents gathered at Freedom Plaza Saturday to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the District.
Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke at D.C. Emancipation Day 2022 about the District’s emancipation of its enslaved people eight months before the January 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Office of the Mayor and the D.C. Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment organized the event, which started with a parade at 2 p.m. and culminated in fireworks Saturday night.
Bowser used her speech to call for D.C. statehood and celebrate the decline in coronavirus cases that allowed the city to host the large event.
“I want you to come out and celebrate in our city,” Bowser said during her speech. “Because D.C. is open. You can come to our festivals, theaters, the Wharf, the Anacostia Park, you name it. It’s time to enjoy your city.”
Festivities included a concert with CeeLo Green and Crystal Waters, food trucks and a parade from 10th Street NW to Freedom Plaza.
Performers and marchers in the parade included high school and middle school cheerleading and band teams, D.C. officials, live music acts and political advocacy groups. Robert White, an At-Large D.C. Council member challenging Bowser in the 2022 mayoral race, also attended the celebrations.
Attendees of the Emancipation Day celebrations said they enjoyed the day’s events and the commemoration of an important event in the city’s history.
Selah Squalls, a Jackson State University student originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, said it was her first time at the Emancipation Day celebration. She said she felt excited about the significance of the celebration of freedom for Black Washingtonians and would stay at the event until the end.
“This was the day where slaves were free in Washington, D.C.,” Squalls said. “So I feel like it was important as an African American and as an African American student. It’s a great thing to be a part of. It’s a great thing to celebrate.”
Ronee Jarman, a D.C. resident, came to the Emancipation Day celebration to watch her daughter perform in a pro-D.C. statehood musical number by the Nation’s Capital Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, a historically Black nonprofit children’s advocacy group.
“There’s middle school students and they were tasked with coming up with a point of view about D.C. statehood, some for some against and then they were invited here by our local congresspeople,” Jarman said.
Jarman said Emancipation Day is a day where people who historically are underrepresented get a chance to feel seen and heard.
“All of us, especially African Americans and minorities, have been the backbone of Washington, D.C.,” Jarman said. “And it’s a day where we can all feel as though we’re represented, and that we’re all being heard. We can all serve, but then we also all need to be represented.”
Henry Huvos contributed reporting.